So far, the new Gaza war has done little to change the sympathies of Americans, according to the new Pew poll, which should surprise no one. The war is a rehash of similar military conflicts in Gaza since Israel’s withdrawal and the election of Hamas into power. The issues are the same — Hamas wants all of Israel, and Israel doesn’t want to commit suicide. The provocation is the same — Hamas’ continuous fire of missiles into Israel, and Israel’s occasional “cutting the grass” strategy to degrade their capabilities. The rhetoric is the same, even though Hamas’ usual cries of outrage after having its provocations answered seem to be having a lot less effect than in the past. So why would any of this change minds?
On the other hand, the partisan gap in those sympathies is widening, mostly among Republicans:
As violence between Israel and Hamas shows no signs of abating, the sympathies of the American public continue to lie with Israel rather than the Palestinians. And dating back to the late 1970s, the partisan gap in Mideast sympathies has never been wider.
Currently, 51% of Americans say that in the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, they sympathize more with Israel. Just 14% sympathize more with the Palestinians, while 15% volunteer that they sympathize with neither side and 3% sympathize with both.
These views are little changed from April, before the recent outbreak of Mideast violence. However, the share of Republicans who sympathize more with Israel has risen from 68% to 73%; 44% of Democrats express more sympathy for Israel than the Palestinians, which is largely unchanged from April (46%). The share of independents siding more with Israel than the Palestinians has slipped from 51% to 45%.
Just 17% of Democrats, 17% of independents and 6% of Republicans sympathize more with the Palestinians than Israel. These numbers have changed little since April.
Pew’s graph shows the dramatic increase in sympathy among the GOP:
That dramatic increase may end up being worrisome to Israel in the long run. The US has a long history of bipartisanship when it comes to our alliance with Israel, even though some members of both parties have criticized it for various reasons. If this becomes another issue of partisanship testing, that will not benefit Israel, nor would it benefit our own politics.
On the other hand, every demographic in the survey has a plurality sympathizing with Israel by a wide margin. Even among the lowest levels of sympathy for Israel — liberal Democrats and religiously unaffiliated — the margins are double-digit at 39/21 and 36/20. There are substantial differences about the level of sympathy in the age demos, but not the balance of sympathy. The youngest demo, 18-29YOs, favor Israel 2:1 at 44/22, while among seniors it rises to 60/9.
The lack of movement isn’t for lack of trying. The Nation’s Eli Clifton goes after Israel for an imbalance of casualties in the conflict, suggesting a lack of proportionality in an article headlines by an accusation of propagandizing a dating app:
“Operation Defensive Shield,” Israel’s self-named “defensive” operation in Gaza, is killing a lot of Palestinians in response to rocket fire from Gaza. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency in Gaza puts the latest casualty toll at 174 killed Palestinians and over 1,100 wounded. The UNRWA commissioner general in Gaza told the New York Times, “women and children make up a sizable number of victims of the current strikes.” As of yet, no Israelis have been killed during the latest Gaza offensive.
174-0 is a tough ratio to explain. Especially for an operation that Israel claims is being taken in self-defense against terrorists in Gaza.
Ahem. Israel “claims” to be acting in self-defense because it’s incontrovertibly true. Hamas has fired rockets on Israel for years, and recently ramped up the attacks over the July 4th weekend. On July 7, well before the start of Israel’s military action, Hamas fired 70 missiles after repeated warnings from Israel that they would retaliate to put an end to the artillery fire. No country other than Israel would be expected to refrain from responding to artillery fire from another territory, and even that has its limits. (Also, it’s “Operation Protective Edge,” not “Operation Defensive Shield.”)
As for the casualty ratio, it’s actually pretty easy to explain. Hamas picked a fight with a military that can negate its primary weapons with a decent success rate, although not 100%, and Hamas’ weapons have lousy aiming capabilities. It’s not incumbent on Israel to wait for people to die before responding to attacks no matter how incompetent they may be, nor is it disproportionate to fire artillery in response to artillery fire. Even beyond that, Israel isn’t required to respond proportionately to an act of war from an unoccupied territory anyway, let alone thousands of acts of war conducted over a period of years when it comes to rocket fire aimed at Israeli citizens.
War is ugly, and it always puts civilians at risk, including women and children. That’s why it’s best to not start one, especially one that’s impossible to win. Gaza chose Hamas as its leadership, and Hamas chose to start this war while hiding among its citizenry, even though Israel gave them plenty of warning about the consequences and even gave them several hours to change their minds today. If The Nation wants someone to answer for the casualty ratio, they should ask Hamas — and for them, it’s going to be very difficult to explain honestly.
Of note: Israel did incur its first casualty of the war today, from a mortar round rather than a missile, but of course after The Nation’s article was published. The man was a volunteer delivering food to Israeli troops.
Rabbi Eric Yoffie wrote yesterday about the dishonest focus on proportionality of casualties for Time Magazine.